HCSC teams with Teladoc to roll out virtual primary care next year

Health Care Service Corporation is joining the growing list of healthcare players to launch a virtual primary care service.

HCSC, the country's largest customer-owned health insurer, will begin offering the virtual care service to some midsize and large employer groups in Illinois and Texas starting Jan. 1, 2023.

The virtual primary care model is designed to help employers with employees scattered across diverse geographies get timely and convenient access to a trusted online care team—all while managing healthcare outcomes and costs, executives said.

“We know that having a primary care provider is associated with better overall health outcomes—fewer hospital visits, earlier detection of problems and improved management of chronic conditions,” said Monica Berner, M.D., chief clinical officer for HCSC. “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the effectiveness and convenience of telehealth, so we continue to evolve our solutions to help members get care where and how they need and want it.”

An ongoing shortage of primary care doctors has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating barriers for patients to establish an in-person relationship with a primary care doctor, Berner said.

"With the advent of digital capabilities and virtual capabilities, we are now offering virtual primary care services to our members, which means that they can develop a relationship with a primary care provider to do all of those things that they normally would have done with an in-person provider but they don't have to wait months to get it scheduled and they don't have to take time off work to drive across town to a doctor's office," Berner said in a video announcing the new service.

The virtual care service expands members' access to primary care doctors and enables them to establish long-term relationships with a provider, she noted.

"That means that you would establish care with a clinician who's going to be asking you about your personal history, your family history, your job history, your taking your blood pressure, checking labs, they can order labs, that just making sure that you've gotten all the preventive services that you're supposed to, and you would see that clinician repeatedly and develop a long term relationship with that clinician," Berner said.

HCSC is teaming up with Teladoc Health on the new service. The virtual care service will provide annual exams, preventive care, diagnosis and treatment for health concerns and management of chronic conditions. Members receive a welcome kit with a blood pressure cuff and a heart rate monitor so they can provide vital data to their healthcare team, according to the company.

The virtual care service also includes access to additional specialty services, especially those in highest demand such as virtual urgent care, virtual behavioral health and virtual dermatology. Members upload images and explain their concerns via an asynchronous digital platform and receive a reply within 48 business hours with a diagnosis or request for additional information.

Growing digital options

HCSC also recently launched a digital mental health program that provides behavioral health assessments as well as a digital care management model to connect with members after surgery.

HCSC has nearly 17.5 million members in its health plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. 

The insurer is the latest healthcare player to expand or launch such a platform in an increasingly crowded primary care market. In May, retail drugstore giant CVS announced it was rolling out a virtual care service that gives consumers access to primary care, on-demand care, chronic condition management and mental health services.

Virtual primary care and virtual-first health plans have been a trend in the industry following an explosion in telehealth and virtual care use under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major payers including UnitedHealthcareAnthem and Aetna have all launched virtual primary care solutions in various markets. Cigna also expanded access to virtual care through its MDLive subsidiary, including the launch of a new virtual-first health plan pilot for select employers. 

SCAN Group also launched a new primary care medical group aimed at reaching seniors with a combination of virtual and in-home services.

Online retail behemoth Amazon launched a virtual care service for its employees back in 2019. Amazon rapidly expanded that service, with telehealth services available in all 50 states and in-person services in a handful states, but the company decided to shut down the service at the end of 2022. At the same time, Amazon plans to acquire primary care concierge company One Medical for nearly $4 billion.